On surface, Expensive Decision is as hard to beat as the track 1990 Breeders'Cup Belmont Park

October 25, 1990|By Jack Mann | Jack Mann,Evening Sun Staff

ELMONT, N.Y. -- "I'll tell my son that if it were my horse I would be reluctant to spend that extra $10,000," said trainer Stanley "Skippy" Shapoff.

It was 7 a.m. and raining the seventh inch in three days. By 9 a.m. the Breeders' Cup people would be wanting the fee to make Edward Shapoff's horse a starter in the $1 million Mile, on the wet grass.

Eddie had named the muscular colt Expensive Decision because his dam was Third Wife, Skippy explained. But now it had another shade of meaning.

Even if it stopped raining (it did before noon), track superintendent Joe King said, the course would be somewhere between "soft" and "yielding," which isn't Expensive Decision's thing.

"I'll tell Eddie that," Shapoff said, "but I'm sure he's already decided. Well, he has plenty of money."

"Let's not take a chance," said Eddie, vice president of Goldman, Sachs & Co. "Let's go enter him now. There's three days for the track to harden up."

It seems grotesque to call a 71-year-old man Skippy, especially when his 43-year-old twin sons, the investment banker and the periodontist, have plenty of money. Shapoff has been Skippy around Belmont Park for almost 40 years.

"Skip, then," Shapoff said. "I don't like Skippy too much myself."

There is no real reason, Shapoff rationalized, to think Expensive Decision can't "handle" a spongy grass course.

"But I am inclined to think that he has a propensity for a hard surface, rather than soft," Skip argued back at himself.

"If this was not such a big event," he said, "if it weren't a once-in-a-lifetime thing, I think I'd pass. But it takes so much money, and so much heartache, to get a horse to where he is . . ."

Getting Hudson County to the 1974 Kentucky Derby was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. He was "best of others" behind Woody Stephens' Cannonade, and Skip joked about it at the time.

"I said my family was consistent," he recalled. "Once every 49 years we get a horse to the Derby. My father had Kentucky Cardinal in '25." (Up the track, behind Flying Ebony.)

There were a couple of reasons besides Eddie's affluence to get Expensive Decision into the Breeders' Cup Mile. One is that this is, in a sense, a twice-in-a-lifetime opportunity for him.

As a 3-year-old last year the handsome chestnut colt by Explodent was, in Skip's term, "making his own pedigree."

A driving victory in the Choice at Monmouth Park on Sept. 2 was Expensive Decision's fifth of the year and persuaded Shapoff to prepare him for last year's Breeders' Cup Mile. "But he came back with a fracture of the cannon [shin] bone," Skip said. "A pretty severe one. They operated immediately and put two screws in it."

It was a grim autumn at Barn 61. Forever Silver, owned by Eddie Shapoff and partners, had gone over $1 million in winning the Brooklyn Handicap and seemed headed for the Breeders' Cup too.

But he seemed not to recover from the thrashing he -- and all the others -- took from Easy Goer in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. "He was muscle-sore, behind," Shapoff said. "Nothing specific, but he didn't get over it."

Expensive Decision was back in training in 4 1/2 months. He won a race in March and his exercise rider, Linda Salinas, was calling him "Champ" again. "He's a pleasure to ride," she said, "as long as you don't ask him to do anything he doesn't like to do. He'll refuse to go the wrong way on the track until you get a pony to go with him."

Expensive Decision yielded the lead to Learned Jake in the Riggs at Pimlico in May and put up little fight in his next two starts. But on a firm track at Belmont in July he closed fast to peel a full second off the track record for 1 1/16 miles.

That's the other reason Skip wants him in the Breeders' Cup Mile on Saturday. Expensive Decision keeps breaking records and nobody pays attention, Shapoff maintains.

In the Kelso at Belmont on Oct. 8, Expensive Decision beat Rokeby Stable's well-bred Who's to Pay by a nose in 1:32 2/5 for the mile.

"That's a world record," Shapoff said. "Wouldn't you say that was a salient fact? Well, it went almost unnoticed."

The record broken was Royal Heroine's 1:32 3/5 in winning the first Breeders' Cup Mile at Hollywood Park in 1984. The fastest in New York had been Cozzene's 1:33 in winning the second Breeders' Cup Mile at Aqueduct in 1985.

The track for Expensive Decision's record was classified "hard." No reason, Shapoff argues, to "downgrade" his horse's effort.

"Must the track not have been hard when Dr. Fager traversed that distance?" he demanded. His reference was to the world record on a dirt track, Dr. Fager's 1:32 1/5 at Arlington Park (under 134 pounds) in 1968.

Linda Salinas was putting on her old boots to go out in the mud. "Didn't get the new ones yet?" Skip asked. "Well, when we win the Breeders' Cup. Did you see the interview on television last night?"

Linda had. Veteran trainer P.G. Johnson had said he believed the Mile would be contested between Who's to Pay and Expensive Decision.

"I think he's right," Skip Shapoff said.

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